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Big Blue flaunts scantily clad Xeon E3, E5 racks

Disrobed servers give Dell an eyeful in 4-socket arena

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Two socket to me

On the Xeon E5-2400 front, IBM has four new machines, and interestingly, it hasn't pushed out an updated iDataPlex node using these variants of the Xeon E5 processors. There is an iDataPlex x360 M4 node using the Xeon E5-2600, which has more oomph, and El Reg told you about this server as well as Big Blue's other Xeon E5-2600 rack and tower servers announced in March here. You can read about the Flex System modular servers announced in April there.

IBM BladeCenter HS23E blade server

The BladeCenter HS23E blade server

The first new Xeon E5-2400 machine with two sockets for your computing pleasure is the BladeCenter HS23E blade, which slides into the BladeCenter family of chassis IBM has been peddling for years.

Like other IBM blades, this one is a full height and skinny enough to put 14 of them into a 10U chassis. The HS23E has two Xeon E3 sockets and a dozen very low profile (VLP) DDR3 main memory slots and supports up to 192GB of main memory using 16GB sticks. The HS23E has dual connectors for power and networking into the chassis midplane for redundancy.

The blade has just enough room for two hot-swap 2.5-inch drives and not much else, as you can see. You can plug 1.35 volt or 1.5 volt memory into this blade, but the 1.35 volt sticks consume 19 per cent less juice and emit less heat in proportion – so you might want to go that way if you want to use faster CPUs. SATA and SAS drives can be striped or mirrored, but you need different mezzanine features to do it depending on the drive type. You can also slide in 200GB SATA drives if you want to get all flashy.

BladeCenter HS23E internal view

BladeCenter HS23E internal view (click to enlarge)

The HS23E has two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the mobo, and the CIOv (chassis I/O vertical) slot supports one PCI-Express 3.0 x8 slot and the CFFh (chassis form factor horizontal) mezzanine card supports a PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slot. You can link to a PCI-Express expansion blade to the HS23E to give you two PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slots, and you can daisy chain up to four of these expansion blades together. You can put a single Nvidia Tesla GPU coprocessor in each expansion blade if you want and snap it into the two-socket Xeon E5-2400 blade to make a baby supercomputer. In fact, IBM wishes you would.

IBM has certified Windows Server 2008, including the HPC Edition, to run on the HS23E blade as well as SLES 11 and RHEL 5 and 6. VMware's ESXi 4.1 and 5.0 hypervisors are also certified.

The HS23E blade is available on June 4. A base HS23E blade with a four-core E5-2407 and 12GB of memory and no disk runs $1,699. A beefier blade using the eight-core E5-2470 with 24GB of memory costs $4,295.

The mystery Xeon E5-1400 in a rack

IBM has two rack servers that employ the lower-priced Xeon E5-2400 processors:

The System x3530 M4 is a 1U rack server that double-stuffs the Xeon E5-2400s into the pizza box. Like the HS23E blade, it has a dozen DDR3 memory slots, which support up to 192GB of total memory using 16GB memory sticks. IBM's spec sheets say that it supports the Xeon E5-1400, which is a processor that Intel has not yet launched and that has four cores running at up to 2.8GHz and 10MB of L2 cache. (Presumably, this is a chip aimed at high frequency trading.) In any event, the x3530 M4 box can only have one of these E5-1400s. The system uses the "Patsburg" C600 chipset, of course.

The x3530 has room for four 3.5-inch or eight 2.5-inch drives, and RAID 0 and 1 are supposed in the base machine with various RAID 5 options available. The server has three PCI-Express 3.0 slots, with a mix of x16 and x4 slots, depending on the rise card options you pick.

Internals of the System x3530 M4 rack server

Internals of the System x3530 M4 rack server (click to enlarge)

The base System x 3530 M4 with one four-core E5-2407 and 8GB of memory costs $1,699. A more reasonable configuration with two eight-core E5-2470s running at 2.3GHz, 64GB of memory, and eight 600GB 2.5-inch SAS drives will cost you $14,271. So there is a big difference between base and heavy configuration, obviously.

The System x3630 M4 just airs this machine out inside of a more spacious 2U rack chassis, allowing for more peripheral expansion.

IBM's System x3630 M4 server

IBM's System x3630 M4 server, gut view (click to enlarge)

The x3630 M4 supports the same processor options, including the mysterious Xeon E5-1400 and is based on the C600 chipset. The system has the same maximum of 192GB of memory, and the chassis has room for eight 3.5-inch SATA drives or up to fourteen 3.5-inch drives with another two plugging into the back.

The dozen 3.5-inch drives are particularly important for Hadoop clusters, since Hadoop works best with one drive per core and Hadoop shops like cheap and fat drives. That implies using the six-core E5-2400 variant of course. IBM needs two more disks somewhere to get enough drives to balance using the eight-core Xeon E5s. If you use only a dozen drives, you can have five PCI-Express 3.0 slots (you need to have the second processor installed to drive slots 4 and 5). If you want to use the two back-door disks, then you sacrifice two PCI-Express 3.0 slots. Depending on the risers, you get a different mix of x16 and x8 slots.

The base System x3630 M4 with a single four-core E5-2403 and 4GB of memory costs $2,029. A machine with one eight-core E5-2470 running at 2.3GHz and 8GB of memory costs $4,969. If you put in two of those E5-2470s, 64GB of memory, and a dozen 3TB SATA drives, the list price is $23,367.

The System x3530 M4 and x3630 M4 servers support RHEL 5.7 and 6.2 and SLES 10 and 11, but in the announcement letters for the machines, Windows is not mentioned. This does not seem possible, really. But that is what they say. VMware's ESXi 4.1 is supported on the x3530 M4 and the x3640 M4 adds ESXi 5.0.

Both of these rack Xeon E5-2400 machines are on sale starting May 31.

Don't forget Flex

IBM has put the Xeon E5-2400 processors into the half-width, single node servers used in the Flex System modular system as well. The Flex System x220 compute node is very similar to the existing x240 node, except that it has a third less memory and uses the low-gear two-socket Xeon E5s.

Specifically, the x220 node has the same dozen slots and uses 1.35 volt memory in up to 16GB capacities per module for a total of 192GB maximum. IBM is offering the full set of E5-2400 processors in this node, and Windows Server 2008, RHEL 5 and 6, and SLES 10 and 11 are supported. So are VMware's ESXi 4.1 and 5.0 and the embedded KVM and Xen hypervisors in Linux distros. The node has room for two hot-swap SAS or SATA drives in 2.5-inch form factors, just like the existing x240 node based on the E5-2600 processors from Intel.

This Flex System x220 node starts shipping on June 14. Pricing and configuration information were not available at press time.

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

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